Bvlgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin Talks Coronavirus, His Love for Italy and the Upcoming Plans for the Jeweller

Lara Mansour   |   04 - 05 - 2020

When it comes to jewellery houses, Bvlgari is rich in Italian tradition. Founded in Rome in 1884 by silversmith Sotirio Bulgari, the brand quite quickly established a reputation for Italian excellence with exquisite craftsmanship and unique jewellery creations.

 

Bvlgari has been famed for its statement pieces and its vibrant colour combinations that define the House. The brand has always kept its cultural legacy at the heart of the House, combining this with expert innovation and always looking for contemporary ways to adapt and evolve, while remaining true to its heart. Today, over 130 years later, Bvlgari is still leading in the world of expertly made and finely crafted jewellery. As well as expanding into accessories, watches, fragrance and hotels. Leading the company’s direction today is CEO Jean-Christophe Babin. While originally from France, Jean- Christophe has become an adopted Italian since taking the helm of the brand. He has found himself immersed in the Bvlgari culture and been fascinated with the legacy of the house. Here we discover what Italy means to him, as well as what we can expect to see from Bvlgari for the rest of the year.

 

What does Italy mean to you personally?

I was born in Paris, but Italy is my second home. I have lived in this wonderful country for many years and it represents more and more everything I love about life. It is a place where creativity, history, architecture and “joie de vivre” converge in a unique way. The Italian mentality always knows how to remain open and flexible to all changes and opportunities.

 

Tell us more about the importance of “Made in Italy” and why do you think there is such a fascination with this concept globally?

Some time ago, I read in an Ipsos research that “Made in Italy” is the most entrusted and desirable label worldwide for luxury goods, ahead of any other country. It’s not surprising when we know the unique artistic and artisanal DNA of Italy and the country’s excellence in the various fields spanning from luxury sports cars to leather goods, to jewellery and fashion. When I think of Made in Italy I think of the prestige of the Italian industry made by a series of excellent products that are recognised for a high-quality level of the materials used, refined style, innovation, attention to detail, excellent workmanship and the ability to last over time. It is the identity card of this wonderful country. Something that never stops respecting the values of the past, but always reinterpreting them in a contemporary perspective.

 

 

We have seen the generous donation you gave Italy in such hard times and this kind of initiatives reflect the values in a person and in a brand. Tell us more about the values that define the Bvlgari culture and the values you live by as a person.

One of the values that characterise Bvlgari’s DNA the most is the generosity that the brand has been able to demonstrate in many different areas and at different times. We can talk about its role as a patron through which important restorations have been started in the city of Rome, its home, from where it continuously draws inspiration through the architecture, the monuments, and the colours of the sunsets. To name just a few, we mention the restoration of the Spanish Steps close to the historical Bvlgari store in Via Condotti or the polychrome mosaic of the Palestra of the Terme of Caracalla to which the brand has dedicated a collection of Jewels named Divas’ Dream. For over ten years, Bvlgari has also been a partner of the “Save the Children” humanitarian aid organization responsible for fundraising what was close to $100 million and aims to intervene in four very specific sectors: emergencies, education, the fight against poverty and Youth Empowerment. A unique partnership in the luxury sector that has allowed us to reach more than 2 million children in around 34 countries around the world. Today Bvlgari wants to do its part also in the war against COVID-19. We have donated to the Spallanzani team of researchers a very high definition 3D microscope to help them speed up the search for the vaccine and we are con dent that those intelligent and excellent hands know how to carry out such an ambitious and important goal for all humanity.

 

Furthermore, we have reconverted our ICR Fragrances factory in Lodi near Milan into a hand sanitizer gel production facility to distribute to all hospitals in Italy, and to many Swiss cantons including Neuchatel, Basel, Vaud and Geneva, and from the end of the month also in the UK. We wanted to take concrete action with targeted methods that could help those who fight the pandemic every day and put their lives at risk to save thousands of people. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of potentially life-saving 75ml pocket bottles that have been distributed to tens of thousands of front line heroic medical staff fighting COVID-19 day and night in intensive care units.

 

Bvlgari has a fascinating story of how the brand came to life, what is the part of that legacy that inspires you most?

Definitely the story of our founder, Sotirio Bvlgari. He had a very clear goal and to achieve it he challenged difficulties of all kinds in a period of great wars, at the end of the 1800s. He moved from Greece to Italy and although there was an extreme scarcity of raw material for the creation of jewellery, he was able to create the brand that today is recognised as the largest Italian jeweller in the world, a master in the choice of precious stones and excellent in manufacturing of its products. A visionary who has a lot to teach us in terms of boldness and determination.

 

Jannah Collection

 

Italy has suffered greatly throughout the global pandemic we are currently experiencing – when all of this is over what do you expect to see from the recovery of this crisis?

It is not easy to be able to make a certain prediction considering the uniqueness of the crisis we are experiencing, comparable only to the last war. I believe that the wise thing to do now is to work on the strategies that can be put in place when you can start again, knowing that more than at other times, our designs must be flexible and customisable to the situation we are going to face. We must not stop, and we must be aware that sectors such as luxury and fashion will have leading roles similar to what happened in the historical and economic crises of the past. They are part of a business that in addition to numbers can act on people’s mood through beauty, creativity, ingenuity, and lightness.

 

In every crisis, there is always an opportunity – what is something positive that will come out of this situation?

Albert Einstein said that “The crisis is often a blessing because it brings progress and it is precisely in the crisis that inventiveness, discoveries and great strategies arise. Those who overcome the crisis overcome themselves without being overcome.” I think this unexpected moment has two sides of the same coin. The negative one is related to the loss of people and the incredible physical and mental effort to which doctors, nurses and all the health staff who struggle every day to fight the pandemic are subjected. The positive side is related to the opportunity we have to reflect on and review some aspects of our personal and working life. We have experimented with new ways of working and relating, giving much value to what has been temporarily taken away from us. We have the opportunity to accelerate in our case an increasingly ethical, transparent and engaging approach to the customer by showing our manufactures and telling the product differently.

 

Bvlgari Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon

 

Do you think it will impact the buying behaviour of customers?

Luxury will not disappear. The past has shown us how luxury has been the protagonist of great rebirths such as that of the second post-war period. Jewellery itself dates back to 15,000 years and has gone through terrible wars, pandemics, starvations always gaining in desirability for its unique celebration of the most emotional moments in life as much as the timeless value of its components such as gold, platinum or rare gems and diamonds. We have the evidence with the fast recovery in China where all our stores have been reopened since mid-March and are scoring double-digit growth thus conforming the propensity to resume immediately a “normal life with occasional indulgences” after the crisis. And it is also logical if you think that after having been deprived of many things there is the desire to give yourself a gift and be gratified.

 

With many major exhibitions that you used to be taking part in being cancelled, how are you staying close to your customers to share your novelties?

Certainly, at this moment the whole world of digital and social communication is protagonist both to tell what we are doing to support the fight against COVID-19 and to continue showing our beautiful products, also through manufacturing details. We are all focused on social media at the moment and this allows us to have greater attention also in the story to be told. We also have a very efficient CRM system and all the teams of our boutiques are directly in contact with customers. At this moment we are prioritizing communication more linked to the personal relationship than to the product and for this reason, we have started a Take Care program that suggests showing our customers how to take care of Bvlgari products while staying at home.

Clockwise from top left: Bvlgari Divas’ Dream, Bvlgari Divas’ Dream Peacock, Bvlgari Octo Finissimo, Bvlgari Octo Finissimo rose gold

 

Speaking of Novelties, can you share with us the highlights of 2020 in terms of new products? And what is the main focus for this year? (Watches, and Jewellery collections)

Jewellery is our core expertise and business and one of the main events of the year took place in New York earlier in February with the worldwide launch of Bzero1 “Rock”, a new aesthetic expression of Bzero1 created by our Watches Art Director, Fabrizio Buonamassa, and ornate with studs making it more unisex than ever. Then from this summer onwards, we will release major novelties on Serpenti, then ending with Diva and Fiorever in the final quarter. In the meantime, we’ll start introducing our 2020 High Jewelry collection with a first regional event probably in Asia in August then followed every 3 weeks with other regional events in Japan, China, Europe, the Middle East and the USA.

 

On watches, we introduced earlier in January during the LVMH Watch Week in Dubai, some of the major 2020 novelties including new Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon diamonds, a jewellery watch setting a new world record in terms of micro-tourbillons size. We have also introduced new Serpenti Seduttori with more daily executions such as the full steel and gold or steel and diamonds. For men, the hero has been Octo with a new gold Minute Repeater and the 100 meters steel on steel, which could become the first icon of the 21st century in daily masculine luxury watches. Then by the end of August in Geneva for the Geneva Watch Days, we will exhibit further news at our Ritz Carlton showroom especially on Bvlgari-Bvlgari with a 9 cities edition, a new Octo world record and a new Men’s collection, without forgetting on the Gerald Genta side, a new Arena following the 50th anniversary Arena Platinum launched in 2019.

 

What can you tell us about Bvlgari and sustainability?

Sustainability has been dear to Bvlgari for a long time. COVID-19 has certainly accelerated a process that was already underway. Above all, younger customers were the first to desire that greater transparency and ethics that goes beyond the beauty of the product. How the product is created, how the raw materials are supplied and what type of environmental footprint the company leaves. What will surely happen now is that young customers will also drive all the other generations. It will be important for us to test the product in all these phases and allow everyone to be able to enter our factories virtually and see behind the scenes, what happens from the moment a product is designed to the final control phase. It is an extremely stimulating and necessary new process and type of communication.

 

SERPENTI FOREVER CAPSULE COLLECTION FOR RAMADAN

 

When this entire situation is over, what can you tell us about Bvlgari and the plans in the Middle East after the mega-success you had with launching the exquisite “Jannah” collection?

First, Jannah will go beyond the February event and become a regional collection available in the UAE Boutiques and on the forthcoming Bulgari.com.uae e-commerce site. Then we’ll move on with some openings that will include Qatar’s Place Vendôme, Dubai’s Meydan and the new boutique relocation at the Avenues Mall in Kuwait to further elevate our Middle Eastern visibility and desirability. The Middle East is for us one of the key strategic world markets.

 

Many other jewellery brands wonder what is the reason why Bvlgari is so successful and desired in the region especially when it comes to the design aesthetics. Tell us more about the pre-requisites for success?

When I started working for Bvlgari in 2013, I immediately realized the potential of this wonderful brand. It is not just about the product, but also more about an incredible mix of history, audacity, creativity, and typically Italian style.

A Bvlgari product is recognizable because of its character and its clear DNA, from the coloured stones to the particularities of their cut. When it comes to watches, it is about the complicated Swiss mechanisms that perfectly match the typically Italian style and design. The fine leathers of our accessories, in which the iconic Serpenti sign always dominates. The raw materials of the fragrances, precious and at the same time already part of a sophisticated system of sustainability, for example in the cultivation and harvesting of jasmine in India where we have started a project that will help producers to work in safety and quality. All the way through to the welcome of our hotels all over the world and in that unmistakable Italian warmth that is experienced through hospitality, design and cuisine. A wonderful mix of excellence that makes Bvlgari the first Italian jeweller in the world.

 

What advice would you give based on your expertise for small businesses to recover after this situation?

More than ever to be creative, qualitative and responsible while true to their roots, origins and DNA balancing the beauty of their products or experiences with the beauty and generosity of the soul of their brand.

 

 

What is your first memory of Italy?

When I was 16, I went with some college friends to Venezia by train from Paris to spend a few days during the Easter holidays. I just fell in love and ever since that time I have returned there tens of times before eventually settling in Milano in 1991 professionally and proudly becoming Italian in 2007.

 

Where in Italy do you like to travel to and what is your favourite city and why?

I like everything that tells the story, so Italy is the ideal country for me because any place you visit has something to tell. I am fortunate to live in Rome most of the time, where I love walking and observing the unmistakable and overwhelming architecture and monuments, the sunsets and colours. I love Milan for its dynamism, Florence for its elegance, the south for the warmth of the welcome and the smells of the flowers and fruits that are felt walking through the streets. It is a wonderful country and I am proud to also be Italian.

 

Can you share with us any Italian traditions that you have with your family and friends?

We like to enjoy life at its best and live the Carpe Diem fully, enjoying any moment for what it brings and celebrate the joy to be healthy, alive and happy with family and friends. One tradition is to eat late, as there’s no good Roman evening without an apperitivo to start so dinner will follow from 9.30 or 10 pm onwards!

 

What is the motto you are living by during this time?

More than a motto, I am an optimist by nature and I am even more so especially at the moment. I do not like to see only the problem, but to project myself towards the solution and always find a positive side.

 

How would you describe Italy in one sentence?

I can say THE most blessed place of joy and beauty on planet earth.

 

READ MORE: 

Chairman and CEO of YOOX Net-A-Porter Group Federico Marchetti on Technology, Sustainability and the Future of Business

Veronica Etro on Staying True to the Brand’s Values and Developing New Ways to Share the Message of Etro

Alessandro Sartori, Artistic Director at Ermenegildo Zegna Discusses Family Values, His Passion For Italy and Planning for the Future

TAGS